Making the Grade
Children are born with vivid imaginations that run beyond boundaries and rules. Many are story tellers from the time they learn to string words together. But somehow, over time, we manage to bury their voices under layers of rules, criticism and grades.
"Managing the creative writing process in a school situation is difficult," says author Patricia Malone. "Part of the problem is that most teachers teaching writing are not writers themselves."
Malone, author of The Legend of Lady Ilena and Lady Ilena: Way of the Warrior, has a history with teaching creative writing to gifted students in fifth through seventh grades. Now retired from education and in between writing books, Malone shows teachers how to teach kids creative writing.
"There are many contradictions in the way that writing is taught in the classroom and often our children’s individual voices are squashed because of it," Malone says.
Malone advises teachers in her workshops that strong, often misdirected, focus on word choice needs to be re-evaluated, especially when dealing with word repetition. "Teachers will ask youngsters to revise what they write to eliminate all repetition. They even have a section on the ISAT test that asks kids to do this," she says.
Too much unnecessary and detailed description is often requested, Malone says. "Youngsters are often asked to describe their characters ... exactly what they look like ... every detail about what they are wearing. But in some of the best books, characters are not physically described at all. It is left up to the reader’s imagination."
Giving readers only what they need allows them to imagine the character in a way they can connect, she says.
"Complete sentences are another thing," Malone says. "Teachers are always asking kids to write in complete sentences. Most of us don’t talk in complete sentences, we leave out words or cut each other off. So, when conversation is written in complete sentences, it just doesn’t ring true. Fragments can be OK, especially in dialogue."
In her workshops, Malone recommends that instead of telling kids how to write, teachers teach writing by exposing kids to good writing. "Don’t just have them read, read to them, even if they are older." Malone says hearing the written word will teach what good writing sounds like.
Parents should also ask their kids to read their own writing out loud so they hear the tempo, pace and flow, she says.